Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Maid of Norway

A rather sad little story with big consequences, but a story worth telling. For a writer, it's a story worth playing with.

In Scotland in the thirteenth century, there was a king called Alexander III. He had been king since childhood, had kept the country stable, and was generally regarded as a good leader. There was a queen, and they had two sons and a daughter. In those days it was important for a king to have a son who would learn about monarchy as he grew up and be ready to take over when the time came.

One of the princes died in childhood. The daughter was married to a Norwegian prince and died in Norway, giving birth to a daughter they called Margaret. Then the queen and the only remaining prince died, and suddenly Alexander III was childless. The heir to the throne was the tiny little Norwegian Princess Margaret. Alexander quickly married again.

One night after a gathering of the Scottish lords, he rode home to his new queen through along the coastal path, in foul weather. He lost his way, his horse stumbled and panicked, and he was found dead the next morning at the bottom of a cliff with his neck broken. Overnight, the nation was leaderless, and that was dangerous.

A group of the Scottish lords, The Guardians of Scotland, kept everything together. They crossed the sea to Norway and proclaimed three year old Margaret Queen of Scots, but she stayed in Norway with her father, who was now king, while the Guardians ruled on her behalf. This state of affairs went on for four years and seems to have worked well enough. Various claimants to the throne rattled their swords, and King Edward I of England, in my opinion one of the nastiest monarchs in our history, offered to help but was politely refused. However, when he suggested marrying off his young son to the little queen, the Guardians agreed to discuss it and the Maid of Norway was sent for. At seven years old she set sail for Scotland. But on the way, she became so ill that she didn't survive the journey. Her body was put in a coffin and returned to her father, who insisted on opening it to identify her.

With the Maid of Norway dead, the dynasty died out. Claimants jostled for the throne. The result was war, and more war, with bitterness and hatred that would last for generations. You can read those stories elsewhere.


this is where we ask that question beloved by writers - what if? What if the King of Norway didn't want to risk his little daughter going to a strange land and being a pawn in the hands of lords and kings, but he couldn't risk annoying the King of England? What if he faked the death of his daughter so he could keep her safe somewhere, maybe foster her out to a Norwegian family where she could be free and live like a normal child? What would you have done? What do you think?

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Wet Mistmantle

It's sad and soggy here in this Valley in the North. Rain drips from dead trees and empty washing lines. Soggy leaves squelch underfoot. Much, Oliver and Dodger don't feel the wet because they're made of stone, but they look pretty fed up to me.

It's the same on Mistmantle. The moles are staying underground, building tunnels through soggy earth. Hedgehogs make hot drinks and hang up their cloaks by the fire to dry. Squirrels run for cover, dodging through the wet leaves, running up trees and darting into the first hollow they can find. In the Tower, Juniper and Brother Fir make medicines for coughs and colds and the animals in the workrooms stop trying to do any close work on the Threadings because the light is so poor. The kitchen fire is the best place in the whole Tower. But the young animals, including the Tower family, pull up their hoods and run outside to float their bark boats downstream.

And the otters? They are loving it. Fingal lopes out from the sea, shakes himself, rolls over, and runs back in again. Tide and Swanfeather tumble through the waves.

King Crispin watches them from the tower. He's glad that somebody's enjoying the wet, and gives Arran and Padra the rest of the day off.

Monday, 6 February 2017


The Lassie and I accidentally found a fabric shop a few weeks ago, and had a little peek inside. The Lassie is a patchworking star, as I told the shop man. We got on to chatting about patchwork, and he said it makes him laugh that customers are very particular about the fabrics they use for their patchworks. Cottons or nothing. In the past, when making new out of old was necessary, everything went into the patchwork, all weights and colours of scrap fabric, shirts and dungarees, summer dresses and party frocks, curtains, anything. To see a modern equivalent, look at

Snippets of fabrics made me think of snippets of stories. I have often thought of writing down the memories my parents have come up with over the years - they are both on the far side of ninety years old. But the important thing about writing down these stories is not so much what happened and who said what, but the background against which they happened. The story about Auntie Annie hitting my grandfather across the face with a haddock has to seen in its context - the quayside, crates of fish, and the woollen shawl that Auntie Annie pulled around her as she took to her heels and ran up the stone stairs. ('I grabbed me shaal, and I ran up that bank...'). Shirts had separate collars. Dark red or green bobbly tablecloths, heavy and often trimmed with tassels, covered dining room tables.

Boys wore grey shorts until they were coming up fourteen. Wearing your first suit was a rite of passage. But those shorts came down to the knee, and socks (if they stayed up) almost came down to meet them. And children's clothes were invariably scratchy and uncomfortable. My Aunt Jenn's coat must have smelt of nutmegs, because she always had one in her pocket to keep the moths away.

A patchwork of my life would start with bits of candlewick bedspread, yellow plastic sou-wester, crinkle swimsuit, horrid school uniform, then 1970s cheesecloth and Laura Ashley. Now, for those of you who like to write and need a springboard -

Choose some of the past fabrics from your life. What stories do they have to tell you? Are these stories for somebody else to read, or just for you?